The structure and function of telomerase reverse transcriptase

Annu Rev Biochem. 2006;75:493-517. doi: 10.1146/annurev.biochem.75.103004.142412.


The structure and integrity of telomeres are essential for genome stability. Telomere dysregulation can lead to cell death, cell senescence, or abnormal cell proliferation. The maintenance of telomere repeats in most eukaryotic organisms requires telomerase, which consists of a reverse transcriptase (RT) and an RNA template that dictates the synthesis of the G-rich strand of telomere terminal repeats. Structurally, telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT) contains unique and variable N- and C-terminal extensions that flank a central RT-like domain. The enzymology of telomerase includes features that are both similar to and distinct from those characteristic of other RTs. Two distinguishing features of TERT are its stable association with the telomerase RNA and its ability to repetitively reverse transcribe the template segment of RNA. Here we discuss TERT structure and function; its regulation by RNA-DNA, TERT-DNA, TERT-RNA, TERT-TERT interactions, and TERT-associated proteins; and the relationship between telomerase enzymology and telomere maintenance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Humans
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • Protein Conformation
  • RNA / chemistry
  • RNA / metabolism
  • Ribonucleases / metabolism
  • Telomerase* / chemistry
  • Telomerase* / genetics
  • Telomerase* / metabolism
  • Telomere / metabolism*


  • RNA
  • Telomerase
  • Ribonucleases